Dec 31, 2016 by Plastika Skaza

Interview with Tanja Skaza, director of Skaza

Sustainability, In the movement

Tanja Skaza is a determined, modern manager in charge of Skaza, a company quickly evolving from a family company into an international business. By developing its own brands, it is even more dedicated to the values of the circular economy, innovativeness, and promotion of employees, who are the future of the company.

"Our goal is to become global and to show people that we are fighting for nature, for this planet of ours, and that we wish to change it primarily with products made from recycled and biomaterials. For us, the crisis was a time of change," says Tanja Skaza.

Tanja Skaza, Plastika Skaza

The company Skaza has grown from a family company into a medium-sized business within a few years and is well on its way to becoming an established international company. What is the recipe for such success?

Next year we’re celebrating 40 years of operations. We already have quite a long tradition of entrepreneurship, which developed from a craftsman undertaking with one employee into the currently agile company with a little over 300 employees. Why do we even want to become a global company? Because progress, growth, and new challenges are ingrained in our entrepreneurial spirit. Today, we are already present in over 50 markets. A step forward is a logical development. There are numerous opportunities, we only have to find and recognize them at the right moment. We’re expanding the B2B and B2C segments, and we’re also finding new global opportunities with our Bokashi Organko Mini Composter and with household products under the Skaza Style Your Life brand name.

You’re producing products for, practically, the entire world, since they’re suitable for every home.

True, we’re present in over 20 million homes, with products from the electrical industry as well as furniture and household appliances, which represent 90% of our total business. Today, we provide development solutions for plastics for large multinational companies, which also include Ikea. Our wish is to grow by at least 20% per year with our Skaza brand.

The company Skaza now has a revenue of 31 million euros, which increases by about 20% per year, and you’re predicting revenue of 100 million euros in a few years. That is an ambitious plan.

Some say that we’re slightly insane. This year, we will have 34 million euros of revenue. This is the result of shifts and work invested in people and our own brand. We’re growing nicely, we’re investing, and if we continue to be open to changes, I don’t see a reason for our revenue not being that high in 2020 as well. 

How were Organico and Skaza Style Your Life brands accepted?

With Organico, we are present in 34 markets. We see the potential for higher growth in neighboring countries, where ecological awareness is higher than elsewhere. These are primarily Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, and others. Because of their environmental culture and values, we expect further growth of market share in these countries. The Skaza Style Your Life brand is really young but is already present in 40 countries. It will soon be joined by a new range of products, which we are excited about and convinced that they will bring about further success. In April we’re launching a new line under the Skaza Pick&Go brand – a picnic set made from bioplastic, offering consumers an even more pleasant and colorful leisure time in nature.

You started your brand during the crisis period and thus faced the crisis head-on.

In 2008, during the economic crisis, our business shrank by about 35%. At that time, we knew the time for change had come, first in ourselves, and then in the company. In our company, we saw the crisis as an opportunity for a change of direction, for new challenges, and also for new understandings about what we did wrong. We directed our focus and energy primarily into our company vision and mission. Even though companies during a crisis generally save money, primarily in employee education, we invested significant additional assets toward training and also invited consultants to join us in the transformation process. In one year, we organized about 40 workshops, where we realized, as a team, that we know how to be active and flexible, and that we do have a free spirit. Whatever we started, we polished for so long that an average product or solution was transformed into something perfect. We discovered that we as a team are inclined, within the limits of our capabilities, of course, to take care of our planet. At that time we were already considering what product we can make from waste plastic bottles and how to use it as a raw material for further development.

The decision to establish your own brands went hand in hand with the innovativeness and the care for the environment, and thus the future.

True. However, unfortunately, only a theory and a wish are not enough. With our products, we wanted to express our care for the environment for ourselves, for our children, and for future generations. We wanted to express it concretely, with actions. Thus our Organico Mini Composter was developed. Today, I know that when we started Organico we were only developers, as we lacked sufficient knowledge to best sell the value and the story of sustainability ingrained in our new brand. We learned with time.

Maybe Organico was even a bit ahead of its time. This awareness – how important it is to care for nature – is slowly growing.

Maybe Organico was a bit ahead of its time, but our amateurish, clumsy marketing story also means that we did not know how to correctly present our product to consumers. We’re currently developing a new Organico product, which solves all its predecessor’s issues. This time, we will use all our acquired knowledge and combine it in a story that will convince consumers about the usefulness of the product and about its real, sustainable value. 

From a classic company, you changed direction towards an innovative, modern, development-oriented production that uses recycled plastic and other renewable sources.

We have recently asked our employees what they would rather produce: 10,000 Skaza pots or 50,000 Ikea pots. The vast majority has chosen Ikea. I understand their replies. Working for Ikea gives a sense of security, which is crucial for successful work. Once our employees realized that Ikea had also stated in its plans that all their plastic products would have had to be made from recycled material by 2020, their belief in this new story grew even stronger. Today, most of our employees firmly believe in our own brand. They believe in the story in which used plastic is brought back to life, thereby also following the direction of the circular economy.

Single use plastic alternative

Circular and green economy – both are also a priority of EU policies. Although generally those that start on these “circular and green” stories, do not only seek profit.

People who know us are sometimes surprised that we dedicate so much attention to our employees and their education, and don’t only seek profit. We operate according to the belief that you have to prepare and educate people today so that they can take on the role of company development facilitators tomorrow. Therefore, I know that we won’t increase our profit in the next three years; however, I am certain to achieve results after these three years and those will be trustworthy. This means that we have to prepare people, and I don’t only have our employees in mind, to make changes within themselves, today. In my opinion, this is the right path if we want to make sure Slovenia remains healthy in the future, to have a healthy environment and people with real, healthy human values. I wish Slovenia would have a goal about what it wants to be: does it want to be innovative and in what way. 

For future innovativeness, goals must be set today. Innovativeness has to be embraced, one has to be truly sustainably oriented. Only talking about these goals is not enough.

If employees don’t understand what we’re doing, we can’t sell or share this story with others. Every employee must know about their mission and the values on which our work and actions are based on.

We have these values written down. We polish our ideas until others understand them. We always strive for more and encourage such thinking in our employees. We, as people, are capable of doing more. Of course, people have different experiences. But – like one of our slogans that you were able to read before in our company premises – it is never too late for changes. Working with renewable sources, respecting the environment, working with beauty. These are our values, and we would like people to find themselves in them. Of course, I often emphasize that if you’re free, you’ll also be creative and will know how to create. Our goal is to become a globally established company and to show everyone that we’re fighting for nature, for the beauty of our planet, and that we wish to change it, also with recycled materials. An important aspect in this development and way of thinking is also the attitude to mistakes. They are important. Make a mistake, stumble, and move on. Become a fighter, as that is the only thing that can propel you further. That’s how you gain experience, and each experience makes you richer. 

You said at the start that your company values a free spirit. Experts also emphasize the importance of a free spirit, an opportunity for people to think without restraints, as that generally produces exceptional results.

The more freedom people have, the more creative they are. One of our core beliefs is that Slovenians could be more daring – considering what we know and what we have.

In addition to the lack of cooperation, which is also characteristic of Slovenians, this lack of ability to be daring is probably quite a problem.

It’s true. We have a lot of knowledge, a lot of excellent products and other resources, we are innovative, but we’re constantly afraid of something.  Above all, we’re scared to speak out, to try. But if you don’t try, you’ll be constantly wondering if you could have succeeded.  Slovenia could be not just one of the most beautiful natural and safe oasis, but an oasis for the richest investors as well, because we have a healthy cuisine because we have smart people. We’re at the top in education, globally. Do you know what kind of advantage that is, to be at the top in education?! But instead of having these people create in Slovenia, we send them out, we don’t let them try their limits and develop ideas in Slovenia. Instead, we put their ideas in a drawer and allow others to overtake us. Look at what happened in Europe when it fell into recession. Europe closed up, every country looked within itself and decided on austerity. The US did the opposite, they opened up. They opened up development departments and told the youth to research, do anything, create ideas, as these ideas will be the future, we’ll have new things to create, and we’ll be able to look forward to something, to have a future. Here it’s completely different. We don’t give enough opportunities for good ideas. For example, we have excellent start-ups, and it is completely up to us how to help them become established in the world. Will Slovenia provide the means and specific knowledge, will it know how and be capable of connecting them to the right companies, since they can’t or don’t know how to do so themselves?

We often hear that there is not enough interaction between companies and universities, especially if we want to achieve a breakthrough, since we have a lot of knowledge on both sides, but don’t know how to bring it together.

Cooperation is very important, also to better understand the economy, what is required in the future, what is its vision, what personnel is required, and what can the education system offer. It is important to listen to each other.

Does your company cooperate with faculties?

That’s right, throughout Slovenia. We’re also co-founders of the Polymer Technology College. With the College, we’re trying to become trendsetters for changes of materials, such as bio and recycled materials. Here, it’s not just a matter of having the industry state what exactly is required for its work and development – students must understand our needs. It is therefore important to include them in company activities and specific projects. In my opinion, students should visit a company at least once a month in order to find out and discover what else can be done for the future. That’s what we do. We have the Skaza Academy, which hosts various guest lecturers and we also have our employees giving lectures. This month, 11 schools visited us: six groups from faculties, three from primary schools, and two from secondary schools. We were also visited by young entrepreneurs, a group from CEED.  We do all this in order to ensure better interconnectedness – between companies, educations systems, young entrepreneurs, start-up companies – as this will make it easier to promote better ideas. Without such goals we won’t have an innovative Slovenia. It is not enough to be educated; we have to share the knowledge and experience and have such sharing become a regular feature.

During the last decade, we educated a whole bunch of social scientists, many of whom are now unemployable graduates and doctors, whom the government simply does not know how to "utilize".

These are intellectuals. That is why the government, like companies, requires a vision. If a company doesn’t have a vision by 2020 or by  2030, then it doesn’t know what will be done, what it requires, where to invest money, what knowledge it requires, and the level of education needed by its personnel. It doesn’t know anything. If the government doesn’t have this vision, it doesn’t know what education and health care are required. A vision is a foundation for a strategy.

Our government lacks this vision and strategy. Ministries are striving towards these goals, but this vision is still very "diffuse". Why is that?

Because ministries and ministers are the foundations, and as long as they’re not working in concordance, the house, i.e. strategy, cannot stand. This can also happen in a company. Until we were 100% sure about the Organico strategy, we did not expect a 100% result. A similar situation happens in a country: if a strategy is not established, and everyone has their own priorities, the house cannot stand. I don’t know how the government could hope to understand companies.

Nowadays, digital transformation is extremely important in the economy, like in other aspects of life. How does it affect a company like yours – in sales or before?

Everywhere. Digital transformation has been the topic of conversation for quite a few years, even though some only speak about it, others want it, while some haven’t even considered it. Personally, I think digital transformation is the infrastructure of the 21st century. Without it, the company can’t be successful. Not only in sales but also in business processes and their optimization. We’re implementing a digital transformation of the entire company – not only in sales and marketing, but everywhere in logistics, production, maintenance and repairs, and consumer services. 

How do you follow robotization and similar challenges?

Innovativeness and digital transformation have become regular features in the company, and will in two years become hygiene factors of every company. The same will happen with robotization. We don’t wish to replace people with robots, but to have robots as an aid, as tools for employees to make work easier – it should reduce the physical workload and allow a more mental and creative approach.

Do you still reward your employees who have the lowest amount of rejected products?

This year, our employees had a “piggybank” – the less rejected products, the higher the bonus. Because of better work and thus less rejected products, their piggybank accumulated 150,000 euro, which will be divided among them. They can thus see how they can contribute to the changes – how something that would otherwise be rejected contributes to their bonus. The piggybank was set for each month, and they had something to look forward to the more they contributed to the piggybank, the more they received at the end. In the end, employees and the company profit from fewer mistakes.

In our society, the lack of ethics stands out prominently – corruption is rampant, reports of corruption in health care are once again filling the headlines. Do you see any opportunities for us, as a society, to improve?

We have to start with our values. Each company has to set its values and respect them. We can’t do without them. Nowadays, unfortunately, we’re in such a rush that we’re over-emphasizing the results, but don’t put enough emphasis on people, who are the driving force behind everything, behind the entire progress. We thus forget ethics, respect, modesty, openness, honesty. If we want people to change, we have to first provide the knowledge. And this doesn’t happen by itself.

In Slovenia, there aren’t many successful women in positions such as yours. However, we do know that such endeavors have been alive and persistent for some years even in Slovenia. Will women in Slovenia reach important managerial positions, or will we have to once again use quotas to reach this goal?

Relationships between genders are changing in our society, but slowly. Personally, I think that every supervisory board should include at least two women, depending on the total number of supervisors, of course. Why? Because women are more persistent, are not afraid of challenges, they seek solutions, and move on. Men have their focus, which is good, as there is no successful company without focus. They still often think that women, because of their roles as mothers, housewives, wives, can’t spend as much time in sessions and meetings. My message to men is to not be afraid of women. Women can handle it. Another question is, how much do women themselves want to be at the forefront? I am noticing changes in this regard, especially with younger generations. I think women should be given more opportunities to express their own vision, as their perspective of the world is also needed. A world with only men would not be pretty. That is why two opposites were created, a woman and a man, and I firmly believe that we can be much stronger together.

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